Wait, was mom actually right about this?
You woke up late, and were lucky enough to rush through a shower. Enough time for blow drying? So not happening. As you head out into the chilly morning air, you recall what your mom nagged you about back when you were 8, leaping through puddles on a rainy day. “If you stand out there in the cold with your hair wet like that, you’re gonna get sick!” your loving mama nagged (uh, warned) you. So was she right?
The science says: not even a little bit. Whether you’re standing in the cold rain without an umbrella or stepping out with wet hair on a wintry day, your wet hair doesn’t influence how susceptible you are to catching a cold.
But it’s not your mom’s fault for leading you astray. For decades (or even centuries?), people believed spending too long in the cold or playing in the rain could make you catch pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. Pneumonia typically starts as a cold or flu, which irritates the lungs and allows pneumonia-causing bacteria to invade more easily.
So how do you catch a cold? It comes down to the transfer of virus germs, which can happen even when your hair is dry as a saltine cracker. When a sick person coughs, sneezes, talks, laughs, drools—you get it—they leave cold or flu germs on surfaces or in the air. If you inhale the germs, or touch them and then rub your eyes, mouth, or nose, the microbes can infect you, too. Bring on the cough drops and chicken noodle soup. (Learn more tips for preventing the flu here.)
The dampness of your hair doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your susceptibility to catching such germs. But while your damp hair won’t get you the cold, flu, or pneumonia, going out in the cold wet-headed isn’t a totally innocent habit: It could increase your risk of hypothermia in severely cold temps. Being wet can make you more sensitive to temperature changes, so if you’re out in the cold, your body temp is more likely to drop too low.
But the common cold? Nope. Wet hair can’t do that. (Sorry, mom.) If you’re always coming down with the sniffles, here are some actual reasons you always catch a cold.
Common cold. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on November 25, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/commoncold.html.)
Halting hypothermia. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health, 2015. (Accessed on November 25, 2021 at https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/12/halting-hypothermia.)Pneumonia. Wilmington, DE: KidsHealth. (Accessed on November 25, 2021 at http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/pneumonia.html.)